“So in Norway, when we graduate high school, we have this tradition that the two weeks leading up to our, um, independence day, um, we essentially do college in two weeks. And by that we, uh, everyone essentially has like a startup company where they fund, they get money and they work and they buy a bus. And this bus is to represent a group of people that have together to party on this bus for these two coming weeks. You build this bus to represent you as a group. So you paint it, you have your own song. They usually spend about twenty to forty thousand dollars on these buses. And they pay a couple to three thousand dollars per song or more. People live off this shit. They graduate high school and they just make music for these crazy graduating students. And they have a pretty decent life. Umm, so what you do is you do this and then you buy a suit, you buy like overalls that are completely red and covered in the Norwegian flag, and it’s got different colors. That’s the only time that you’ll ever see these colors in Norway which is why I find it so baffling that people in America keep wearing and wearing their flag everywhere. I guess it’s like weird, it’s like nationalism, which is bad, but for these two weeks in Norway: totally cool. So everyone gets drunk, everyone has sex with each other, there’s a bunch of STD things going on and like a lot of people take precautions so there’s just condoms everywhere in the capital for those two weeks, literally just so that teenagers can just grab them passing by. They’ll be in like metro stations, bus stops, random places there’ll just be like a little cup of condoms because people are just like doing things all the time. So there’s a lot of drugs, a lot of drinking, and you kinda like, you do all of those, you get all your immaturity out. That’s the whole point of it. So by the time you have your independence day, everyone’s so fucking exhausted that when you actually celebrate the day that you celebrate Independence Day and that you celebrate your graduation, then finals happen. Afterwards. So it’s a big thing in Norway where people have been trying to get the finals to happen before these two weeks. Because what happens is a lot of, like, not a lot, but maybe one out of twenty people failed their finals because of this tradition. Every year. So they’re trying to change that now. I think it’s going to change this year, but the fact that the government, that all entire Norway works around this insane tradition: just get fucked up and have sex for two weeks? It’s fucking fantastic.”
The source definitely looked upon this tradition with a lot of happiness. It seemed to be one of his favorite parts of high school. He said it’s not a very long-standing tradition, but that it’s definitely been around as long as he’s been alive. He says it’s a way for them to release all the pent up stress from the year. It allows them to let loose and do crazy things that, under other circumstances, wouldn’t be allowed.
This tradition seems to come with its own sort of hall pass. It sounds like the kind of thing that these kids would never get away with if only there weren’t so many of them participating in it. That’s probably how it came about in the first place. Some group of kids wanted to let loose, but they knew they’d get in trouble, so they got a whole bunch of people together and went nuts. It probably didn’t fly as much back when it started, but now that it’s mainstream, the whole country probably knows to expect this debauchery and just lets it slide.
What also makes it interesting is that it involves a lot of responsibility. It’s almost like a rite of passage, really, because these kids have to work and save up money in order to be able to afford this massive, two-week rager. They also need to plan and organize it all themselves. Basically, they’re doing very adult things in order to be able to do some very not adult things. Quite the contrast.
The informant is a 20-year old Jewish student attending USC. She was born in Venezuela but has lived in Miami since she was eight years old. She is majoring in Engineering. The information she shared with me is about Jewish funeral custom.
Informant: “Everyone goes to the funeral home or the synagogue, or wherever the funeral is taking place. There is a service; the Rabbi says some prayers in Hebrew and in English and some kind words about the deceased. Then usually some family members will speak about the person who has passed.”
Interviewer: “What kind of stuff do they say?”
Informant: “Well it varies. Sometimes they will talk about the person’s accomplishments, sometimes they will tell funny stories about the person, or their fondest memories with them. I was at a funeral about a month ago where one of the deceased’s grandchildren read a portion of a school project she had written about her grandma when she was a kid. She had interviewed her grandma for the project. It was really cool.”
Interviewer: “That sounds really cool. What happens next?”
Informant: “Well, everyone goes outside where the burial takes place. I don’t know if it is Jewish tradition everywhere, but at least at the weddings I’ve been to, there are shovels around the burial site, and everyone who wants to can shovel some earth onto the grave. It’s really beautiful. Then there is a shiva.
Interviewer: “What’s the shiva?”
Informant: “The shiva is when everyone—the family and friends of the deceased’s family—goes to someone close to the person who has passed’s house. There is lots of food and drink (usually non-alcoholic though) and people eat and talk. It’s a big gathering as a sort of celebration of the person’s life and as a way to comfort the family.”
Often rituals surrounding death double as celebrations of life and a reason for social gathering. Death is a rite of passage and like other rite of passage rituals, it is a rite of transition, mainly for the family and friends of the deceased. The shivas I’ve been to aren’t typically sad events. The funeral itself is generally a somber, teary-eyed event, but shivas I’ve attended often involve a lot of conversing and even a good-deal of joke-telling.
Day of the Dead
The informant is a 19-year old student attending USC. She was born in Avellino, and has lived in central Mexico, London, and Italy in her life. She speaks Italian, Spanish, and English and is majoring in architecture. The following is what she shared with me about Day of the Dead from when she lived in Mexico for 6 years.
Informant: “In Mexico there was the Day of the Dead.”
Interviewer: “How do they celebrate it?”
Informant: “They made like alters with food, and they have it out for the dead. There are a certain amount of days it goes on.
Interviewer: “Did you have any friends who celebrated it?”
Informant: “Yes, but we did it at school too. We did the sugar skulls.”
Interviewer: “What’s a sugar skull?”
Informant: “It’s a skull made out of sugar. [Laughs]. You just bought them at the supermarket. You could decorate them yourself.
Interviewer: “What is Day of the Dead about?”
Informant: “To celebrate the Dead! The people that have passed on come back to life at night.”
Interviewer: “is it scary? Like are the dead perceived as bad?”
Informant: “No, it’s good. They are good spirits.”
Day of the Dead is a pretty well known and considerably popularized holiday. It was interesting to hear how indifferently the informant was about Day of the Dead and the customs around it. Perhaps having lived in a culture where the dead aren’t perceived as “bad” or as haunting makes the whole notion of dead coming back to life something casual.
Talking to the informant about how Day of the Dead was celebrated in Mexico reminds me a lot of talking to Israeli soldiers when I was in Israel this summer about bar and bat mitzvahs in Israel. One might think that Jewish rituals would be more extreme or that people would be more devout in a Jewish state, but in fact, it seemed the opposite. All of us American-Jews were surprised to find out that for the Israeli soldiers we talked to, bar and bat mitzvahs (Jewish coming of age ritual) were just parties for the bar or bat mitzvah and his or her friends as opposed to the religiously-heightened ritual they are typically performed in the United States.
Informant: “I don’t know if you have this in the States, but we get school cones. Do you know what that is? Well, you know how a cone is where you put ice cream inside? And we get massive ones on our first day of school, but filled with gifts.”
Interviewer: “And what is in these cones?”
Informant: “Mostly presents of any type. It can be sweets, it can be stuff for school, it can basically be pretty much everything.”
Interviewer: “And are these presents supposed to make students feel better about having to go back to school?”
Informant: “No, no. This is only on the very first day, when everyone is super excited anyways. And it’s just to make the start even more special. And then it’s usually grandparents and everybody coming to the school and we have a big ceremony where the classes are announced and who is in which class, with which teacher and stuff. Yeah, it’s actually sweet. And in my family we went out for lunch later, and we just ate. So that is what I did.”
Interviewer: “What are they called, the cone things in German?”
Informant: “School cone, schultüte.”
Schultüte translates into English as ‘school bag’, even though the object is in a cone shape. A Schultüte is a cone shaped cardboard cup filled with things such as chocolates, small gifts, and practical gifts for school like pencils or crayons. These are given to children in Germany and Austria by parents and grandparents on their first day of school, especially upon entering kindergarden. This tradition appears to only be for younger children. The tradition first appeared in the early 19th century in Germany. It first began in the bigger cities, but the tradition soon spread to the rural areas of Germany and is now a common custom in Germany and Austria today. When the tradition first began, the school cones were not directly given to the children as they are today. Children’s names were written on the cones, and then were hung from a metal Schultüten-Baum or ‘school cone tree’. The children had to then pick the school cones off the trees without breaking them. There is a story connected to this that says adults would say to the children that if the school cone tree was ripe with school cones, than it was time to start school.
I am not sure what the connection to fruit growing on trees is for the school cones, but the cones represent an initiation for children to start the new year of school. In my research I found that my first response to the reason why school cones are given, which is to make the children less nervous about going back to school, was just as reasonable as my informant’s reasoning that it was just part of making that day even more special. The first day of school is full of all kinds of anxieties that come from starting a new school year with a new teacher and new courses. School cones are given to the children to help create an atmosphere of celebration, which makes the anxieties of change more bearable to children because the gifts make the day more exciting. I don’t know why this tradition has not spread to other countries, perhaps because it is a relatively new tradition compared to other traditions we see in folklore. I like the idea of turning the first day of school into a celebration because it makes education special in the minds of the children due to this kind of positive association with the start of school and gifts. This is not to say that in America we think of education differently than than they do in German culture, but the first day of school can bring about anxiety to children because things are unfamiliar to them. Therefore creating a happy atmosphere would be a great way to dispel any feelings of nervousness that the children feel.
My informant was born in 1992 Hamburg, Germany. She studied at USC from 2010-2011 before moving to Brussels, Belgium to study international policy planning for her undergraduate degree. She lives part time in Brussels, Belgium and part time in her hometown Hamburg, Germany.